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The Originals Vol. 19

March 23rd, 2009 Leave a comment Go to comments

In the 19th instalment of The Originals, we look at “60s classic Doo Wah Diddy Diddy, Joe Cocker”s chestnut You Are So Beautiful, a couple of legendary Motown his and the sorry tale of the Verve”s Bitter Sweet Symphony.

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The Exciters – Do-Wah-Diddy.mp3
Manfred Mann – Do Wah Diddy Diddy.mp3

excitersIt was a huge hit for the unlikeliest pop star ever to emerge from Johannesburg (yeah, I know, Mr Lubowitz”s stage name applied to the whole band). But a year before that, in 1963, it was recorded, minus a diddy, by a soul girl group which never enjoyed as much success as it deserved. The Exciters are remembered mainly for their single big hit, the Bert Berns composition Tell Him.

Do-Wah-Diddy was written by Brill Building hitmakers Jeff Barry and Ellie Greenwich, who wrote many girl group hits such as Be My Baby, Baby, I Love You, And Then He Kissed Me, Da Doo Ron Ron, and River Deep Mountain High (Greenwich also co-wrote the Exciters” other hit, He”s Got The Power, and ““ incidentally ““ discovered Neil Diamond).

The song made a comeback of sorts when Bill Murray and Harold Ramis sang it in a marching scene from Stripes (1981), the first half of which was very funny. Earlier in the film, Ramis uses another Barry & Greenwich composition, Da Doo Ron Ron to good comedic effect.

Also recorded by: Sheila (as Vous les copains, je ne vous oublierai jamais, 1964), Jan & Dean (1965), A la Carte (1980), Silicon Teens (1980), Showaddywaddy (1980), The Dolly Dots (1982), Neil Diamond (1993), Mr. Al (1997), Murry Lachlan Young (1997), DJ Ötzi (2001)

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Undisputed Truth – Papa Was A Rolling Stone.mp3
Temptations – Papa Was A Rolling Stone (full version).mp3
Temptations – War.mp3
Edwin Starr  – War.mp3

papa-was-a-rolling-stoneIn Motown”s happy family it was common that the same songs would be recorded by different artists. Sometimes, that custom would result in two chart-toppers within a year, as in the case of I Heard It Through The Grapevine (see Volume 2). In other cases, one version would become legendary, and the other virtually forgotten. So it is with Papa Was A Rolling Stone and War, both muscular soul-funk tunes written by Norman Whitfield and Barrett Strong.

The Undisputed Truth, who may be remembered for their hit Smiling Faces Sometimes (which was originally recorded by the Temptations), recorded Papa Was A Rolling Stone as a single release in 1971. It did not perform spectacularly well, peaking at #63 in the US charts. A year later, Whitfield gave the song to the Temptations when he produced their 1972 All Directions album, on which it appeared as a 12-minute workout. The shortened single version went on to top the US charts.

The song dated the death of the deplorable Papa to “the third of September”, which happened to be the date Temptations singer Dennis Edward”s father died. Edwards was allocated that line, leading him to suspect that Whitfield had written the line knowing of that particular detail. Whitfield denied that (as he well might), but nevertheless exploited Edward”s anger about it by having him sing the line in repeated takes until the singer sounded very irate indeed. For his troubles, by the Temptations dismissed Whitfield as their producer. The group would never recorded anything better than Whitfield”s epics. And when Whitfield (who died last year) eventually left Motown, the Undisputed Truth followed him.

psychedelic-shackWhile the Temptations scored with the Undisputed Truth”s song, Edwin Starr had a hit with a Temps song, War. The anti-Vietnam protest song appeared originally on the Temptations 1970 Psychedelic Shack album. By popular request, Motown decided to release it as a single, but not by the Temptations, because the label did not want to associate its big stars with political causes. Indeed, the Temptations themselves were apprehensive about offending some of their fans (though exactly why anybody who would dig the drug-friendly psychedelic grooves of early-“70s Temptations might be offended by an anti-war sentiment is a mystery). So Motown gave the song to a relative unknown who two years earlier had enjoyed his solitary hit. Edwin Starr”s anthemic, fist-raising version was far more fierce and furious than that of Temptations. Catching the zeitgeist, Starr”s War was a US #1 hit. And guess who appears on the backing track? The Undisputed Truth.

Also recorded by: (Papa Was A Rolling Stone): David Lindley & El Rayo-X (1988), Was (Not Was) (1990), The Lovemongers (1992), George Michael & Queen (1993), Isaac Hayes & Soul II Soul (1996), 4 the Cause (1998), Lisa Fischer & Chris Botti (2003), Gilbert Montagné (2006).
(War) D.O.A. (1982), The Jam (1982), Frankie Goes To Hollywood (1984), Tom Jones (1985), Bruce Springsteen & The E-Street band (1986), Mace (1976), Laibach (1994), Hexenhaus (1997), The BB Band (1999), Joan Osborne (2002), Gilbert Montagné (2006), Boyz II Men (2007), Maria Muldaur (2008)

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Billy Preston – You Are So Beautiful.mp3
Joe Cocker – You Are So Beautiful.mp3

billy-prestonFew noises in mainstream pop history have been as disturbing as Joe Cocker”s croaked note at the end of that staple of soppy love songs, You Are So Beautiful. Some people might regard the song best crooned by Homer Simpson, but they are probably not familiar with Billy Preston”s rather good original. The song was written by Preston and his songwriting partner Bruce Fisher, with Beach Boy Dennis Wilson”s uncredited lyrical contribution  (Wilson would sing the song as an encore at Beach Boys gigs in the late “70s and early “80s). Preston”s version was recorded shortly before Cocker”s slower version in 1974. The former remained an album track, while Cocker”s version reached the US #5 in 1975 (but didn”t chart at all Britain).

Also recorded by: John Davidson (1976), Tanya Tucker (1977), Bonnie Tyler (1992), Babyface (1993), Kenny Rogers (1994), Captain & Tennille (1995), Al Green (2005), Sam Moore with Billy Preston, Zucchero, Eric Clapton & Robert Randolph (2006), Diana Ross (2006), Carnie Wilson (2006), Westlife (2006), Kenny Rankin (2007), Donny Osmond (2007) a.o.
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Andrew Oldham Orchestra – The Last Time.mp3
The Verve – Bitter Sweet Symphony.mp3

andrew-oldham-orchestraOf course, this is not so much the story of an orignal and its cover as the unhappy tale of a sample and greed “” all revolving around a loop in the Verve song that was lifted from Andrew Look Oldham”s 1966 instrumental adaptation of the Rolling Stones” The Last Time. Oldham was not only a musician, but also the manager of the Stones in their early pomp. He sold his contract to Allen Klein ““ has there ever been a more lawyerly name in rock? ““ in 1966. By 1997, when the Verve”s Urban Hymns album came out, Klein controlled the Stones” 1960s back catalogue.

The Verve had actually secured permission to use the sample, but when Klein heard an advance copy of the song, he threatened to sue, claiming that the us of the sample exceeded what had been agreed on. The band and publishers settled on a 50/50 royalties split. As the album hit the shops, Klein reneged on the agreement and demanded 100%, successfully so, because by now the album could not be pulled from the shelves. The out-of-court settlement was a defeat for the Verve ““ and, to some extent, for Oldham. All royalties were ceded, and the songwriting credit went to Jagger & Richards, even though their version of The Last Time had no significant influence on Bitter Sweet Symphony. The Verve”s Richard Ashcroft, who wrote the song, later commented caustically: “This is the best song Jagger and Richards have written in 20 years.”

verve-bitter-sweet-symphonyIt can be argued that Jagger and Richards didn”t even write the song from which Ashcroft didn”t sample; The Last Time was based (or ripped off, if you are feeling less than overly charitable) on a 1950s recording by the Staple Singers of almost exactly the same title, This May Be The Last Time. It”s a shame the Staple Singers didn”t think to sue”¦ And just to turn this sorry tale into a real farce, when Bitter Sweet Symphony was nominated for two Grammys, the credit went to Jagger and Richards as writers and the Andrew Oldham Orchestra as artists.

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  1. March 23rd, 2009 at 14:56 | #1

    Hm. I tried walking down the street while snapping my fingers and shuffling my feet and singing “Do-Wah-Diddy”. Nobody seemed particularly impressed by my moves. Hmph.

    And I continue to *love* reading this series. :))

  2. Andrew
    March 23rd, 2009 at 23:22 | #2

    Thanks for all the information about the Verve debacle. It hurts my feelings to read about this sort of thing, because Bitter Sweet Symphony is so brilliant, and I keep hearing people say, “well, they stole the song from the Stones, so they deserved to get sued.” I’ll be pointing them to this entry to set them straight.

  3. March 25th, 2009 at 01:47 | #3

    Nice entry in an entertaining and fun series.

    I was aware of the Stones/Verve snafu and I thought it further degraded my opinion of Mick and friends (although I suppose my dismay would be more appropriately directed at the attorneys).

    I had an odd cover song moment the other day when a song by the band Fetchin’ Bones popped up on my iPod. It was their take on Rick James’ Superfreak that somehow slipped through the cracks as I’ve had the CD for a good fifteen years.

  1. March 24th, 2009 at 16:54 | #1